WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump called Thursday for “love” and “kindness” in response to the school shooting in Florida, generally saying he would “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” but proposing no specific action on mental illness, guns or anything else.
“It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference,” Trump said in a sombre speech at the White House.
Trump devoted most of the speech to an attempt to console the country. The Wednesday shooting killed 17 people and wounded at least 14 in and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain,” he said, adding: “Your suffering is our burden also.”
Directly addressing “America’s children,” Trump said: “Answer hate with love. Answer cruelty with kindness.”
“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you and who will do anything at all to protect you,” he said.
Trump’s speech was another instance in which his remarks in a written address deviated from his unfiltered commentary. In his first substantive remark, on Twitter on Thursday morning, Trump suggested the local community should have done more to prevent the massacre.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” he wrote.
Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, who could not convince Republicans to pass gun control measures while in office, took to Twitter to call for action again.
“We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job. And until we can honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep them safe from harm, including long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change,” he wrote.
Trump said in the speech that he would visit Parkland. He had already been planning to spend the weekend at his residence at the Mar-a-Lago club about 65 kilometres away.
The suspect, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15, the same kind of semi-automatic rifle used in the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; and San Bernardino, California, among other incidents. He made the purchase legally, though he had reportedly experienced mental health challenges.
Trump dismissed the usefulness of gun control in an interview last month, telling Piers Morgan that the problem is that “there’s sick people” and that, if Las Vegas shooting perpetrator Stephen Paddock had been barred from obtaining 55 guns, “he would have had 55 bombs, he would have had 55 of something else.”
With Republicans in charge of both the presidency and Congress, any action on guns is exceedingly unlikely. Congress did nothing in response to Paddock’s murder of 58 people in October, deciding not even to restrict the bump stock devices that allowed him to turn semi-automatic guns into automatic-style guns.
The conversation among legislators played out as usual on Thursday: Democrats demanded action on gun control, calling for popular measures such as background checks for every gun sale and a ban on the sale of military-style weapons; Republicans, offering prayers, said guns were not to blame, instead discussing mental illness and the enforcement of existing laws.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told an Indiana radio station that lawmakers shouldn’t talk about “taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights,” saying, “Right now, I think we need to take a breath and collect the facts.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Fox News: “The reaction of Democrats to any tragedy is to try to politicize it.”
In Feb. 2017, Trump and Republicans repealed an Obama rule that had made it more difficult for people with mental illnesses to buy a gun by adding the background-check database people deemed by the Social Security Administration to be unable to manage their government benefits. The rule was opposed by both gun-rights advocates and civil liberties advocates.
Cruz was apparently reported to the FBI at least once, after a man by the same name commented on a YouTube video in September saying “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” BuzzFeed reported. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that the FBI also received a second report about Cruz at some point.